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Sitting down for the first time with the BETA and what a better way to start my FM17 endeavor with my beloved Arsenal. Throughout the summer all pundits, fans, and media were all calling out for Arsenal to sign a striker, in typical Arsenal fashion they disappointed in the transfer market and signed a relatively unknown forward in Lucas Perez. Not something that would excite the fans and terrify opposing defenders. So when sitting down and analyzing the squad and how we were going to play, I took a little leaf from what the Gunners have been doing in the real world. A makeshift 4-2-3-1 system with Alexi Sanchez as the lone striker (well let’s call him that for now). They are continuing to play the fast flowing football with intricate passing through the opponent’s defense, with an added element of pressing from the forward players, making the whole side more solid defending from the front. Observing the way that Sanchez plays as the lone striker he generally doesn’t seem that far advanced from the 3 attacking midfielders, not like Giroud would, looking like more of a target man, and distancing himself from the 3 behind him. Pundits call this Sanchez role as the False 9.
Now a false 9 tends to start higher and drop deep allowing others to run on past him and playing precise passes with his teammates. I felt that putting Alexi here would be a waste of his ability to run at opponents and hassle them off the ball. That’s when I thought of opting for a strikerless system and using Alexi in a role where he would act more as a hidden striker. Strikerless football consists of 3 elements which the master Guido has highlighted in his most recent tactic post, those 3 elements are; movement, pressing and cohesion, 3 things which in the real world Arsenal are doing, and currently doing very well. This would be the foundation of our system and how we will develop this into attractive, successful football within FM17.
I started to do my research and found Guido’s original Four Horsemen, this concept consists of 6 defensive players and 4 offensive players, with the option of the 4 to roam free and destroy all in their path. The thing with this tactic is that its instructions and shape is completely different to a usual strikerless system, but is something that Guido explains the reason as to why it is in the post. I wanted this to be the basis of my plan, but with a twist, a free flowing Arsenal style in a 4-2-4 strikerless system with those 3 elements highlighted earlier. Let’s call this the revival of the Four Horsemen.
A quick glance at the shape and it doesn’t seem too different to the original Four Horsemen, but when you scratch beneath the surface it starts to enfold its differences. The original has a double pivot of defensive midfielders protecting the back 4 within a structured system, leaving the attacking 4 to distance themselves from the defensive 6. I opted for a double pivot but in the CM positions a little higher up the field, bridging the gap between defense and attack. Out of the two one would be there to tackle and hold his position, where the other would be more supportive to the front 4 with the ability to dictate the play. He is our transition man, the guy who would pick the ball up in defensive positions and start the attacks, arriving late to support them if needed.
The other changes that have been made are the use of the full backs, my intention where to utilize Bellerin to the best of my ability, he has 20 pace and acceleration with a real keen eye in attacking, his defensive duties are also not too shabby. The best way I envisioned to do this was a Wing Back role set to Attack. Defensively he would be a vital part of the back 4 and in attack, he can quickly offer width and pace going forward. The added bonus that he is faster than nearly everyone so can catch wingers if ever caught out of position; this was the risk I was willing to take but the advantages going forward outweigh the risks at the back. He would also get the cover from our more defensive CM who is placed nicely on that side, to fill in the potential gap that Bellerin leaves.
On the opposite side, where we have our supportive playmaker, Monreal has a more conservative duty. He is set to Wing Back (D), the idea here is for him to pretty much stay in line with the CB pairing not offering that much support going forward, but when the opposition sits deep, he is often the spare man on the left and still offers width on the left-hand side, despite his Defensive mentality. This also doesn’t expose the defense when we are attacking with Bellerin on the right and our supportive playmaker getting forward.
The main difference in our instructions from the original is we are playing with a Very Fluid team shape. The reason behind this is because I want the team to attack as one and defend as one, in addition to the high defensive line we keep ourselves as one block going forward and back, congesting the middle of the pitch, outnumbering the opposition with plenty of passing options. In order for this blockade to work defensively we set ourselves as narrow, so our block becomes tighter to break down and forces the opposition back or our wide. Our defensive statistics show that we won 1457 tackles which worked out at 85% effectiveness. Our mentality is one thing and one the only, Attacking. We want to impose ourselves on our opponents and come at them all guns blazing, regardless of our opponents we want to be a threat to their goal.
Our pressing is only set to sometimes, this is because I don’t want our defensive positions to be pulled out of the block we are creating, I am happy for the front 4 to be drawn out, but the rest need to hold their shape.
The more direct passing is something that I have become fond of, initially, I believed that short passing was the way to go to try and create nice flowing football, but the one thing I have noticed with that is there is no urgency to get the ball forward and quite often players will pass back. The more direct route is often misleading in football, most people believe it is stereotypical Sam Allardyce long ball football, but it really isn’t. Effectively it is long and short passing but with one aim and one aim only, get the ball forward as quick as you can to create an attack. Too many times in previous versions of FM attacking opportunities have been broken down or wasted due to a lack of urgency, this eradicates this problem and instructs the players to want to attack the opponent’s goal as often as possible with urgency.
What does it look like?
The Ox has the ball midway into Spurs half on the right; I have highlighted the front 4 in red, the midfield 2 in blue and the back 4 with green. This is an example of our block even when we have the ball; the narrow shout tends to be more when defending, attacking positions naturally become wider due to the Very Fluid team shape. This image shows the front 4 in an advanced line, with (7) Sanchez looking to break forward to create space. (8) Ramsay is the supportive playmaker following the front 4 waiting to pick up any scraps if the ball is poorly cleared. Bellerin (24)is offering support on the right with Coquelin (34) filling in the RB slot. The other 3 defenders all positioned well to deal with any counters that Spurs may throw at them, with Monreal (18) in acres of space and ready if the situation arises for him to support an attack.
You can also see that we create plenty of chances, making 5 clear cut chances during the entire match, something which against a tough side is very pleasing, this backing up the claimed I made earlier about the direct passing. It also shows that defensively we do concede chances like I highlighted earlier one risk is that Bellerin gets caught forward and there is space to be exploited. Also, the high defensive line we play has the opportunity for long balls over the top for a quick striker to pounce upon. Every system has its flaws and weak points, these are the two that I have highlighted and am happy for them to be there in order to play the football we set out to achieve. Our attacking play is important as if we are not scoring or creating chances then the above issues become more serious than once thought.
So after completing a season using this system, we can highlight how the system worked.
We destroyed almost everyone that came in our path, winning a massive 30 games and only losing 1 to Liverpool. We achieved the overall EPL record for most points and most games won. We also won the FA Cup and the CL beating Spurs in the final, whilst knocking out Bayern and Juventus in the previous rounds.
Goals & Assists
Over the 60 games that we played we scored 140 goals with 42% shot accuracy. Skeptics believe that strikerless means you have no threat going forward, defenders easily anticipate attacks and no focal point up top. Well, the amount of goals we scored shuts up those claims, with Alexi Sanchez scoring 34 of the 140 In the Shadow Striker role. He was effectively the advanced forward bursting through the defensive line getting onto through balls or on the end of crosses; he just started a little deeper but had the athleticism to make it count. 97 of the 140 goals came from within the opponent’s penalty box, with 32 of the 97 being within the 6-yard area.
In terms of where the assists came from most of them consisted of passes in the box and through balls from the flanks. In terms of the width, with crossing and fullbacks being so overpowered on FM16 I was surprised to see the next few statistics. 33 goals came from crosses, 24 goals were assisted from the right flank and 20 from the left. Crosses are still effective in FM17 even without a striker! The one thing I have noticed is that we were unsuccessful in 3 times the number of crosses over the space of the season, only achieving 307 out of 900+.
Now this BETA save will only last until the full release on November 4th, my aim is to take charge of Espanyol and see if this system can be effective with another team and to prove that it wasn’t too good to be true and just due to the players I had at my disposal. Of course as this is just the BETA there is the possibility the match engine could change and the whole tactic could go to pot, but I’m hoping that it doesn’t. I regularly update my own site with my FM saves so please join me on my journey into Strikerless in Spain. You can catch up and subscribe to my blog at https://limitedfullback.wordpress.com/